A Manager’s Advice for a Successful Engagement

By Guest Author, Randy

I was a consultant for many years before becoming an actual corporate employee. As a manager, I now hire many consultants and want to share with your observations from both of my perspectives on how you can succeed for your personal career and your client’s success.

The first thing you will encounter on a consulting assignment is that every company, big or small, has a distinct and unique culture. To be successful, one needs to quickly assess the norms, standards, attitudes and expectations. Client manager can give you many insights, but the rest you will need to learn from keen observation.

Start Times

I was once instructed to bring my team to a 7:30 AM meeting at a Fortune 500 company. As I was sure that no customer would actually start a meeting at 7:30 AM, we arrived at 7:45 AM.  My very unhappy customer told us to arrive the next day on time. The next morning, I brought the team at 7:30 AM, thinking we had time to get some coffee. I was wrong again. This was a culture that 7:30 AM meant everyone was sitting at the table with laptops open and ready to start.

The Learning Curve

The most frustrating aspect of consulting for me was that for the first few weeks and sometimes the first few months I don’t know all of the answers.

To accelerate your knowledge, ask if the organization has onboarding cheat sheets. These will include things like a list of acronyms, how to set up meetings and where printers and copiers are located.

Ask for examples of status reports, timesheets and PowerPoint presentations that your manager thinks are stellar. This will give you guidance and a benchmark on the level of detail and formatting that you need to produce to be successful.

Learning a new position takes time.  When you make a mistake, which you will, fail forward fast and keep improving. The four stages of learning never change:

  1. Unconscious Incompetence – this is where you make mistakes because you don’t know there is a problem
  2. Conscious incompetence – You have realized that you have more to learn.
  3. Competence – You are operating at the level the client expects.
  4. Mastery – You are the go-to expert.

Relationships and Hierarchies

Working in a hospital setting I once complained to my manager about a doctor that was obnoxious and almost impossible to work with. She listened patiently and said she would look into it. It turned out that the doctor was her husband.

Every organization has two sets of relationships happening in parallel. The first is the reporting organizational chart that sometimes, but not always, is easy to discern. The second is the complex myriad of interpersonal relationships that will take a very long time to figure out.   Stop whining and complaining about others and you will never repeat my embarrassing mistake.

Preferred Method of Communication

One of the first things I assess is the preferred communication of my manager. This could be face-to-face meetings, email, voicemail, Skype, chat, etc. You can ask and also observe. If your manager never answers your email, look for another avenue of communication.

After being on an assignment for one month, I had a 1:1 conversation with my manager. She told me that I was a very poor communicator, especially about providing her project status. I was quite surprised by this as I had submitted my status report on time each week. As the conversation progressed, I realized that she wanted a touch point every day.

At the end of each day I sent her a brief summary of my status. Two months later she said I was the best communicator in the group!  I was still providing the exact same info as my original status report, but just in daily snippets.

Manager Observations

As a consultant on a project, whether you notice it or not, you are always being observed. If you wear tennis shoes when the norm is dress shoes, wander in 15 minutes late and leave 4 minutes early, rest assured I have noticed. If you are spending billable time sneaking in quick peeks to shop on Amazon or pursuing Facebook, chances are I will notice or someone will tell me about it.

My advice is dress a little better than everyone else and have the best attitude in your group. Speak up in meetings and add value at every opportunity. Always be in a learning mode, fail forward fast, and be in a mindset of constant improvement.  If you follow this advice your first 90 days on the job will be a success!

Randy has worked as both a consultant and consultancy hiring manager for Enterprise level projects in the United States, Europe, Eastern Europe and Asia.

 

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